Thanks to the gracious folks at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival and their reps, Short Order was able to dispatch not one, but two of our finest to last night's Wine Spectator's Best of the Best. Lee Klein examined the national angle while Riki Altman focused on the locals. Here's what she found.
Best of the Best is one of those SoBeWFF events where the chefs and attendees know that probably only half the room -- if not even less -- hails from the 305. So we did a little informal survey: did our local experts and journalists prefer eats from this area code or beyond?
Radio personality and author Linda Gassenheimer's vote went to the Big Apple; she gave Gabrielle Hamilton's Florida rock shrimp with buttered brown rice and duck cracklings her nod of approval. "Prune's dish was really tasty," she said. "The shrimp was perfectly cooked. I really enjoyed that." WSVN-TV anchor Belkys Nerey, who we caught up with as she accepted oxtail marmalade from Sustain's chef Alejandro Pinero, agreed: "I had no idea brown rice could taste that good."
Culinary diva Maude Eaton was a fan of Jerrod Verbiak's (db Bistro Moderne) bowl of polenta topped with aged goat cheese and goat ragout, but she gave high praise to Boston's Tim Cushman: "His hamachi was like a food f--king orgasm in your mouth." Eating that, she said, was almost as exciting as meeting Martha Stewart.
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On the drinks side Miami wasn't represented in the least, but just as an FYI, Eaton steered us to Sterling's 2008, claiming it tasted of chocolate and strawberry. No offense, Maude, but if there's anyone we trust for an opinion on the best wines found last night night, it's local expert Charlie Arturaola. He said he was really impressed with a few finds. "I liked two: Philippe Melka's CJ Cabernet Sauvignon and the de la Vougeraie white from Burgundy," he rattled off without pause. "The Melka is well-known. For just $140 it's a great value. And the de la Vougeraie white... Under $45 bucks! There's nothing like that. I look for where the value is."
But back to the eats. Generally speaking, Miami's chefs did our city proud once again. Red's Peter Vauthy proved that he knew the definition of "gracious, yet bite-sized" with his Oscar-style Angus prime rib eye (we caught writer Tracy Block in line with her daddy); Meat Market's Sean Brasel served up a gorgeous foie-and-ricotta filled ravioli with sous vide veal cheek marmalade (we watched more than a few folks accepting numerous samples); Fontainebleau's Thomas Connell prepared tenderloin of Cervena venison with curried acorn squash; and the amazing ladies from 1500°, Paula DaSilva and Chopped champ Adrienne Grenier, kept mouths happy with their short ribs and smoked potato foam. We also enjoyed the short rib dish from Fort Lauderdale's Chef Elias, who kept it simple, but savory with a Tuscan red tomato sauce. And you know who guests were really sweet on, aside from Momofuku Milk Bar? The Fontainebleau's executive chef, Jordi Panisello, who offered dozens of sweet treats, ranging from pastel macarons and creamsicle marshmallows to these soft, chocolately lollipops.
Though our first stop was to Makoto, who must've been caught off-guard since he was still in prep mode at 8:30 p.m., there was one guy who truly left us in the lurch: Azul's Joel Huff. We stopped by his table at 9 p.m., halfway into the event, and the display was cleaned out as if he never showed up. Huff swore it was because demand was incredibly high for his eel with stone crab, red miso, and chicken skin. Shrugging his shoulders, the surfer chef tried to argue: "I came with 600 pieces. People liked it too much." These gals were none too happy, either. Let's see if Huff makes it up to us tonight at the sold-out Napa Style at the Mandarin dinner he's preparing with Michael Chiarello.